Studies suggest that gender plays a huge role in how autism symptoms appear. It seems that only until recently, females with Autism were more likely to be undiagnosed than males because of the differences in behavior. Traditionally, autism has been more of a “male problem” considering that four times as many boys are diagnosed than their female counterparts.
According to Thomas Frazier of the Center for Autism at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio girls who have the disorder show their symptoms based on intelligence levels. Frazier says, “on the lower end, [girls] tend to have more social communication impairment and lower cognitive ability” yet on the higher end girls have “fewer restricted interests.”
However, there are conflicting views on the subject of autism and gender. On one hand, some researchers believe that girls are genetically protected from developing it. Others disagree and feel that autism is simply under-diagnosed in girls because physicians are unable to see it with them.
Are girls more “immune” to autism?
According to findings from researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle, women tend to need more severe mutations inn order to be “pushed over the threshold” into having the autism genome. They found that women that had the risk genes for developmental disorders were three times as likely to have the genes capable of passing it on.
However, it may be that diagnosed cases of autism in women always seem so rare and so severe because the majority of affected females are better able to hide their symptoms.
Is autism just more difficult to diagnose in girls than boys?
Although both boys and girls with autism have similar symptoms like picking up nonverbal cues or carrying on conversations, girls are better at slipping through the cracks of clinician diagnosis. Many researchers suggest that girls are simply better at coping with difficulties in socializing or communicating. Unless there are additional behavioral problems like hyperactivity or intellectual struggles, girls affected with autism can easily go unnoticed.
Girls might just not fit the male-driven stereotypes of autism. For example, girls with Aspergers are able to cope with their difficultiues by copying the cues of others or “mimicking” clothing choices seen in people around them.
“A girl with autism may be fascinated by horses or by a particular pop star,” says Francesa Happé at King’s College London. “This isn’t unusual among girls, and may not stand out as much as a boy who is obsessed with the Latin names of plants, for example. But the intensity and narrowness of [her] interest is unusual.”
Common qualities of girls with Autism (primarily Asperger’s Syndrome):
- May have imaginary friends/be extremely involved in doll-play of social interactions
- Might seem like “Tom Boys”/ not care about fashion/ be “male-brained”, i.e. good at areas like math
- Might learn faster than boys but need more education for social skills
- May only have one very close friend who serves as a guide/peer supporter.
- Might have an extreme interest in something (intensity a concern, not area of focus)